Jay and I worked on the song until neither of us could keep our eyes open. He slept on the couch and was gone early the next morning, leaving me with Micah’s address. I was hoping he’d forget about his offer, even if I didn’t. If he forgot it would make my decision easier. But here I am, standing in front of a house I haven’t seen in three years. A place I never thought I would be again. I take a deep breath, unsure if I’m doing the right thing. I press the doorbell, my heart racing each second that ticks by. The door opens and Micah’s mother, Ann, stands there. She looks me over, her smile widening. “Oh dear, Micah told me you were back. You have grown so much, sweetheart.” She ushers me inside and I feel the pressure on my chest lift a little.
“I can’t believe you remember me.” I shake off my coat and hang it up.
“Of course I do. It was a mess when you left.”
“No no no. That wasn’t on you. Micah told me everything. Your mother is awful. Come, the boys are helping me in the kitchen.” When we round the corner, Jay and Micah stand in the kitchen, cheeks full. “Didn’t I tell you two to wait?” Says Ann.
“It was his fault.” Says Jay, fighting through the food in his cheeks. Micah finishes what’s in his mouth, then walks over to give me a hug.
“I’m glad you could make it.” He says.
“We’re just setting the table. Go ahead and sit.” I nod my head and walk to the dining room where a girl sits. She turns her face towards me, a smile crossing her face.
“I wasn’t expecting to see you again.”
“Olivia.” I say. “You’ve grown.”
“Three years will do that to you. I can even drive now.”
“You still don’t help in the kitchen?” I tease.
“Please don’t remind Micah, we’ll never hear the end of it.” I sit across from her, letting out the breath that I was holding. “You know I was disappointed I never got to see you again.”
“I’m sorry… I did more damage than I thought.”
“We can’t all have moms like mine and Micah’s.” She says with a shrug of her shoulders. “So are you and Jay back together?”
“No.” I reply with a nervous laugh. “We’re just working on the competition together.”
“Oh, Micah told me about that! Mom and I are going to go watch.”
“Of course, we wouldn’t miss it for the world. Jay’s like my brother and Mom’s second son. There’s no way we would miss it.”
“Miss what?” Asks Ann as she enters, carrying a few sides. Micah has the turkey and Jay the ham. They place everything neatly on the table.
“The competition.” Answers Olivia.
“Oh yes, I can’t wait to see what you all have come up with.” Ann sits down at the head of the table while Micah sits by Olivia and Jay sits by me. Just like it was three years ago.
“Have you two even figured out the third song yet?” Asks Micah.
“I think we came to an agreement on it last night.” I answer.
“You two were together last night?”
“We can be friends.” I reply. “And yes, we were working on the song.” Micah gives Jay a questioning glance, but he ignores it. Olivia reaches for a side, but Ann smacks her hand.
“No, ma’am. You know the tradition.”
“Do we really have to?”
“Yes, we do it every year. You can go first since you’re going to act that way.”
“You always make me go first.”
“Because you always have an attitude. Now, go on.” Oliva rolls her eyes and sighs.
“Fine… I’m thankful for…” She looks around, trying to decide what to be thankful for. Her eyes land on me and her smile falters. “My mom. Nagging or not, she could be worse.” Ann senses what Olivia is referring to and offers me a sympathetic smile.
“I’m thankful for…” Says Micah. “How close my friends and I stayed despite being at different schools.”
“I don’t know why you didn’t follow Jay like Vance did.” Says Olivia.
“My school was better for what I'm doing, and that school is better for what Jay and Vance are doing.” Answers Micah.
“Who’s next?” Asks Ann.
“I’ll go.” I say, surprised at my own willingness. “I’m thankful for the chance to come back again. To see that everyone has been doing better than I could have ever imagined. These past few months have been some of the best in my life.”
“It has been a good few months.” Agrees Micah.
“I’ll go next.” Says Jay. “I’m thankful for the chance to put our music out there. And for having the best possible producer that we could have ended up with. We’re going to do amazing.” My cheeks heat and I have to look away from him.
“And I’m thankful to have a full house today. Let’s dig in.” Everything feels like déjà vu as we fill our plates with food. But I smile, happy that I came. Jay assists me with some of the plates that prove too difficult to pick up. I know he's only being helpful but my heart races each time our hands bump together.
“What happened to your hand?” Asks Olivia.
“Oh, I had to get surgery. A couple of breaks will do that to you.”
“A couple? Are you a klutz?”
“Something like that.” I laugh.
After we eat, Jay, Micah, and I clear off the table and clean up the kitchen. “So what did Jay say to make you come?” Asks Micah as he hands me a dish to dry.
“Nothing. I wanted to come.”
“Why do you seem so surprised?”
“Because I feel you pushing away.”
“It’s not because I don’t want to be around you. Things are just hard, and sometimes I want to curl into myself for a while.”
“You’re not alone anymore, Alia. We’re here for you.”
“Are you two almost done?” Asks Jay as he comes in from the backdoor after taking the trash out.
“Why are you in a hurry?” Micah turns off the water, handing me the last dish to dry, then turns to Jay.
“Because I want to watch a movie.”
“Would it be okay if I left? I want to get back and get some work done.” I ask, putting my hand towel down.
“You’re more than welcomed to stay.” Says Micah.
“I know, but I have a lot to get done.” I see Jay’s disappointment and it makes me feel bad, but I know if I stay any longer, I won’t want to leave at all.
I say goodbye to Ann and Olivia then walk out to my car, Micah following after me. “You really don’t have to leave. It’s been nice having you here.” I lean against my car and face him.
“I know but I want to.”
“What aren’t you telling us, Alia? What happened at Rustic’s?”
“I can see it. The light has gone from your eyes. Just like it did when Brian came to get you.”
“Micah, I was never going to stay forever.” The words come out before I can stop them.
“What are you talking about?”
“I don’t get the happy ending.”
“If this is about Jay-”
“It’s about me. I don’t want to stay.” Micah takes a step back, betrayal hitting him. He shakes his head, not wanting to believe what I’m saying.
“Don’t you get it? My mother won’t stop until everything is destroyed. It’s not about having leverage over me. It’s about making me miserable because I was born. From the moment she became pregnant, I made her miserable and now she’s returning the favor. For as long as she’s alive – I will never be free. I know it’s going to suck, but you have to let me go. You have to forget about me. I’m not worth all this pain and sadness.”
“After all this time, you still don’t know your worth? I’m sorry that she broke you and made you feel like you were nothing, but you’re letting her control you.”
“I’m protecting you by doing what’s best. Forget me, Micah. You don’t need me.”
“So what, you’re just going to leave and not tell anyone?”
“Not right now. I will after the competition. I’m leaving at the end of the year, after Christmas.”
“So that’s it? I’m just supposed to be okay with that?”
“I’m not saying you have to be okay with it. You can be angry. You can hate me. But I’m leaving Micah. No matter what.”
“You’ve been lying to us…” His voice drops, and he shakes his head again.
“I’m my mothers’ daughter… I’ve been nothing else.”
“You were planning on leaving before we even went to see your mother?” He retorts.
“I made a deal with her that would give me a chance to stay, if I wanted to take it.”
“But you don’t want to anymore?”
“No. It hurts too much to stay Micah.”
“You’re selfish. This choice that you’re making is selfish.”
“I know…” I look down, not wanting him to see me cry. I know how utterly selfish I am being. How awful I am. But I don’t know what else to do. My fight or flight is telling me to run. So I am. “Please don’t tell Jay. Not until after the competition. Please?” I look up in time to see him look at me with disgust.
“That’s what you’re worried about?”
“No. I can’t forgive you for this, Alia. You’re breaking all of our hearts by doing this.” He turns away from me and walks back to the house. I get into my car, angry at myself. Wishing I hadn’t told him.
═════════════════ ∘◦ ❉ ◦∘ ══════════════════
Everyone in the band comes home Friday night, so we schedule to meet up Saturday to work on the last song. It’s the first time I’ll have seen Jay since Thanksgiving and I’m worried that Micah may have said something. But when I enter the auditorium, Jay is the same. Smiling and talking with his bandmates. “Alia!” Says Chance.
“Hey guys.” I say happily.
“How was your break?”
“It was good. What about yours?”
“Lots of arguing, but what do you expect from a bunch of adopted kids.” He smiles and Dakota just rolls his eyes.
“It was chaotic.” Says Dakota. “And you were no help.”
“Hey, I watched the little ones, what did you do?”
“Literally everything mom needed help with.”
“Not my fault you’re the only kid who can cook.” I laugh at the two of them bickering, happy to have people around me again.
“I hope you had a chance to listen to what I sent you?” I ask.
“We did and shall I say that this is perfect.” Says Chance. “But that note, do you think Jay could hit it?”
“If not, we’ll figure something out. You ready to get this started?” They all nod their heads and position their instruments.
The day is long and grueling. Jay hit the note three out of the five times he tried it, and each time I got goosebumps. Even the band was surprised. We ended the day with pizza and concluded our last practice for the competition. “Friday night, we’re having a cookout.” Says Vance to Dakota and Chance. “All our friends will be there, you two should come. It’ll be a nice little oorah before the competition.”
“I’m in.” Says Chance.
“Me too.” Adds Dakota. Vance looks at me, waiting for an answer.
“Oh yeah, I’ll go.”
“Alright fellas.” Says Jay. “Rest, focus on school, practice a little in your downtime. Please do not forget the songs. We’re going to be amazing.”
“Rest your voice.” I say to Jay.
“Like Jay said, we’re going to be amazing. I can’t wait to see you all perform on stage.”
“We’ve had an incredible producer.” Says Dakota.
“I think you could have done better, but thank you.” We all say our goodbyes, a sudden sadness falling over me. I can’t believe it’s almost over. All this hard work is coming to a quick end and I’m not ready for it. If only I could have had a few more months of this.
When I get back to the apartment, Min is inside. It’s the first time I’ve seen her since she left for break. “Hey.” I say entering the apartment and taking my shoes off.
“How as practice?”
“Long. But we’re done.”
“You don’t look happy about that.”
“All good things must come to an end. Just sucks.” Min walks from the kitchen to the couch, a hot cup of tea in her hand. I sit in the chair, trying to hold myself together, but when I look up at Min and her eyes meet mine, I break. “I told Micah.” I cry.
“He said he couldn’t forgive me… I don’t know what I was thinking…”
“Give him time… They’re all going to need time after this.”
“I shouldn’t have come back. I’m sorry.” I walk down to my bedroom, needing to be by myself. Needing the remind myself that even if I stayed, things wouldn’t be easy.